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Veterans' frustration rising

Jody Wilson-Raybould's resignation from cabinet this week has stoked long-standing frustration, disappointment and anger among Canada's veterans, who say they have been ignored and betrayed by the Trudeau government.

The Liberals went out of their way during the last federal election to court former service members, as Justin Trudeau promised to improve service delivery and reinstate a lifelong disability pension for veterans after years of Conservative cuts and inaction.

That pension, first introduced after the First World War, was abolished in 2006 with support from all federal parties and replaced by a suite of rehabilitation programs and financial compensation for injured soldiers.

Since then, the Liberals have run through three veterans-affairs ministers in as many years — Kent Hehr, Seamus O'Regan and Wilson-Raybould — while making little headway on improving service delivery and breaking their pension promise.

The government has increased some supports and benefits for veterans and unveiled its own so-called Pension for Life program that will roll out in April, but that program has been widely assessed as falling far short of Trudeau's original pledge.

"Our key concern is there's been a betrayal of the commitment that the prime minister made in the election of 2015," said Brian Forbes, chair of the National Council of Veterans Associations, which represents more than 60 veteran groups.

"That is felt very strongly in the veterans' community."

The Liberals have also been roundly accused of ignoring the various ministerial advisory groups and other mechanisms established after the 2015 election to solicit feedback from the veterans' community about its needs and concerns.

All of which had sowed seeds of discontent even before Wilson-Raybould was handed the veterans-affairs portfolio on Jan. 14, taking over from O'Regan in a move widely regarded as a demotion from her previous role as justice minister.

Now, while parliamentarians and Canadians at large wonder about the truth surrounding Wilson-Raybould's discussions with the prime minister's office about SNC-Lavalin, many veterans feel they have been forgotten. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has added responsibility for veterans to his duties, but only temporarily.

"It's like the veterans are the last priority in this story," said Aaron Bedard, an Afghan War veteran from B.C. who led an unsuccessful legal battle against the government to reinstate the old disability pension. "We don't have a minister of veterans affairs anymore."



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